Friday, 28 March 2014

The reality of a Foreign Student Exchange.


Despite the incredibly odd nature of an exchange trip, which in any other situation would be considered slightly psychotic, the week away from the comfort of my home (read: laptop) proved enthralling. I may have been 'quacked' at by an old man who deemed it appropriate to mimic a duck; I may not have been able to afford to go the loo at one of the many Belgian train stations, and I may have been put to shame by Belgian students with the ability to speak better English than I do, but at least I was not forced to partake in the delight that would have been eating snails and frogs legs. 

As it is with most of today's brainwashed generation at the hands of trashy American TV, I was firmly attached to the idea that the week would consist of a vast testing period of exotic delicacies (sadly, KFC tastes the same is every country), falling in love and starting a beautiful long-distance relationship with wonderful French love letters (snorts) and returning home with a fluent understanding of French (What does 'Bonjour' mean again?).

However, throughout my short stay, I did manage to spend twenty euros on KFC, I did let myself loose in a French pharmacy and I did partake in too many waffle eating sessions. If there's one appropriate time to eat Belgian chocolate and waffles until your body is heaving and your veins feel like sludge, its sitting slouched in a Belgium train station waiting for another train after running for 20 minutes only to miss the first by seconds. 

 Thankfully, I wasn't forced to stay with that one girl in school who is obsessed with their horse, with the delightful name 'Fanny'. (Un)fortunately, whilst that situation was of my friend's, I was blessed with a fellow elephant-loud nose-blower, a person to exert my inner 'weirdo' with and a fellow girl who shares the woes that tag along to the stigma of being gifted with an untameable mane of frizzy hair. From performing our best Peppa Pig impressions, learning foreign slang and introducing each other to the peculiar norms of each country, Sofia and I hit it off immediately. The fact that she speaks fluent English (not to mention French, Italian and a pinch of Swedish) helped a little, but it was the rather odd experiences of the week that made us feel like long lost friends. (Please excuse that ever so common but ever so needed cliché). Her family served normal food, and as the old saying goes, 'I found a home away from home'. If all pans out as expected that phrase is likely to be cemented, as I am currently in the process of organising another trip to the wonderful land of Belgium in August. (Simply so that I can personally escort another tube of the Collection lasting perfection Concealer to Sofia who began a similar love affair as I do with it on arrival at my house...)

The school that I attend here in the UK, despite its zero percent of male attendance, is rather traditional (I have to wear a *hideous* kilt!), and is blatantly blinded by the prospect of leading the league tables, thus forcing countless amounts of thinking skills and exam pressure upon our stressed souls. Walking into the French classroom to be greeted by blackboards in abundance and a fusion of both genders in their own clothes proved my assumptions that school life would be the same, if not similar, wrong rather quickly. Whilst I was forced to endure the nasty sound of scraping chalk on a blackboard, the lack of severity, on behalf of the teacher resulted in entertainment in the form of students throwing dictionaries at each other and chucking an array of stationary across the classroom. Despite my new knowledge of the sexual reproduction process in French (trust me-the utmost awkward science lesson to be sat in with a bunch of foreign strangers...), I unexpectedly found myself excelling in a different environment alongside different peers.

Whilst a lot of people viewed the trip simply as a week off school, when the time arrived to leave Belgium and our exchange partners, the majority, if not all of us, felt hugely benefited in an experience of a lifetime. To say that my (actual) family were amused (albeit slightly fed up) with me returning to the UK babbling away in a French accent with the odd French phrase or word thrown in for good measure, would be an understatement. Aside from the somewhat weird differences I was faced with, I loved immersing myself in a new culture and school life. Who knows, perhaps Sofia and I will end up travelling the world together with our mixed range of languages as Grannies one day. Although by that time I suppose the likes of Harry Potter inspired travel will exist.  Or so I hope.

Have you ever experienced a foreign exchange, or would you like to? Are you still in touch with your pen-pal?

P.S. Lauryn's Notebook is now on facebook. *eager excited face*. Check it out here: 
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